“The essence of spiritual guidance or direction can be seen whenever one person helps another to see and respond to spiritual truth. It is a human relationship that seeks realization of that which is beyond human comprehension.” Dr. Gerald May
Since intently taking on the study of spiritual formation over a year ago, I’ve had quite a few moments of realization, the sort that Gerald May describes here. Certainly, I’m more open to such things; I have a heightened sensitivity to that which I’m already immersed in through reading and prayer and listening and thought. But interestingly, I’m beginning to encounter more and more “normal’ interactions as moments of spiritual guidance – even when the person on the opposite end is completely oblivious.
So, thanks to all of you who are providing such outstanding moments of enlightenment!
That’s not true spiritual direction, to be sure; not in the classical sense, in which two people sit down and dedicate time, uninterrupted, to pay attention to what’s happening on a spiritual level. But these days, my posture is one of openness – my hands, my heart, my ears. I’m looking for that truth throughout the day, accepting opportunities for spiritual growth and change.
Doesn’t that make me sound super-spiritual?
Well, then; let me tell you about a recent day that found me whining, self-absorbed, needy and – all in all – absolutely pathetic. Any growth in the areas of wisdom and self-awareness was buried under my ego’s insistent need for affirmation and validation. I’d participated in something with my heart and soul – poured all my energy into doing something that went well. I received some good, positive feedback. Compliments, even. I was seen, and affirmed, and validated by a few well-meaning folks.
But it just wasn’t enough.
I can’t say for sure what I thought I needed, but I wasn’t getting it. And I was folding in on myself, in a pity-party of loneliness and self-loathing, expressing itself in a pissy attitude and smeared scribbling in my journal.
Was I good? Why didn’t somebody tell me I did a good job? Did _______ like it? Why didn’t ______ mention MY name? What about ME???
I’m not proud of this, but it’s the honest truth. And I find myself wondering: When do I get to Beth-Moore-Level peace, love, and grace all-the-time? Am I ever going to outgrow this?
I did keep up with the discipline of reading and reflecting. That day’s passage included this powerful sentence:
The first step in learning is bowing down to God.
I read it. I wrote it down. I know it’s true. But, no; there was no light-bulb, a-ha moment of repentance to fix my self-absorption.
Nope, not for me. I did the one thing I know that ALWAYS helps me when I’m struggling with spiritual truth, conviction, desperation, and issues of self-worth:
I OPENED A BAG OF CHIPS.
Yep. I chose for a bag of chips as my solution. And that’s something I’m finally understanding, more and more: When my ego screams, I am apparently compelled to chew it into submission. Unsettled, uneasy soul stuff drives me to the kitchen in search of something crunchy. These urges are strong, and focused; they are powerful enough to silence the thoughts for a moment….but not the pain.
I ate more chips than I should, closed my journal, and headed to bed to spend a restless 90 minutes trying to calm my brain.
It was not a good day.
The next morning, I was in a meeting with someone who has been known to speak truth into my life when I needed it. However, we had an agenda, and therefore I wasn’t asking for any truth on this day. I didn’t share anything personal, I didn’t drag any of the previous day’s restlessness or ego issues into the work day. And yet, they WERE there, silent but simmering, impacting my presence and sense of self. Buried, but alive.
Words were shared, out of the blue – specific words that mentioned my name, affirming my efforts in something completely unrelated to the work I’d offered that had seemed invisible (which is ridiculous, in hindsight – but that’s how I felt, and that’s what mattered at the time). They were shared to offer encouragement, and my heart was warmed.
But not healed.
However, the moment wasn’t over; more words were spoken, bringing my hidden, silent pain to the surface. Someone offered a simple prayer as we dug into our work:
“God, we don’t care if anybody thinks we are great, as long as they think You are.”
In that moment, my spirit shifted. Gerald May says spiritual guidance is a human relationship that seeks realization of that which is beyond human comprehension; that moment was beyond my comprehension. All of my egotistical needs were satisfied with a few simple words. It wasn’t just that I was affirmed through the words I heard; nor was it that the prayer shamed me into thinking that “only God mattered”.
No – it was a still, powerful whisper in the deepest part of my soul, where these small-minded, very human hurts hide. It was a message of love – a powerful force that said, I do see you. You are doing good work on my behalf. And what you do is bringing healing to other souls, because you help make space for me. And don’t you remember? This is what I have called you to do. Be you. Be you, here. That is enough. I see you.
This message didn’t come in human form. It was beyond human comprehension – a brush with the Divine, and encounter with a Grace that affirms my existence through Love.
More and more, I’m bumping into these glimpses of love and grace, the essence of all that Jesus reflects in his teachings and example, evident in real time. And they form and reform my soul, and guide my thoughts, and impact my actions. They give me great hope, that beyond knowledge and belief and understanding comes transformation. And precluding that transformation is what seems to have been required of me all along, the part that is hardest for me, day by day:
Submission, every time, brings about transformation. Each time I bump up against the wall and choose to submit, another small part of me is transformed.
Bit by bit. Word by word. Thought by thought.
Breath by breath.
And now? I’m out of chips. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing….